If all has gone to plan, the name of Joseph Finch should mean nothing to the world. But if it does, firstly, I apologise for what I had to do.
Peculiar it may seem for this tale be recounted almost two hundred years after the fact, but those were the instructions given to me by the Stranger.
It began in the winter of 1826.
The banshee wind shrieked across the great barren plains, bringing a ghostly chill from the high places to torment the shutters and shingles of Redemption. Huddling under several blankets and furs, rocking by a meager log fire, I searched through the good book in hope of answers.
In truth, I had been pushed into the pastor's life and given a station at this fledgling town. The residents of which looked to me daily for answers without ever imagining my own inner turmoil. For I received no calling, no belief that God acted through me, I believed yes, but my faith was thinly veiled. Until that night.
A panicked racket was building outside, the sound of gasps and muttered curses growing closer to my door. Before I could throw off my covers a knock came, a quick, frightened banging. The townspeople gathered around, faces stricken, eyes on the clear night sky, mouths agape. Some pointed, others prayed, most begged with their dejected expressions for explanation.
I ambled into the frozen dust of the main street, my heart thundering, mouth desert dry, as I caught sight of a trail of fire arching across the heavens to plummet behind the unseeable horizon.
"What is it, Pastor?"
"Is it an Angel?"
"Are we forsaken?"
I raised my hands for silence, but the thudding of hoofs on hard packed ground pulled their attention and Sheriff Doyle rounded the corner on horseback. He called for calm in that monotone gruffness, assuring all everything would be alright, that he and his deputy would investigate.
"And I," I called out to everyone's surprise. Something beyond the skyline called to me dear reader, something magical, divine.
"Gather in the church good people, pray together that God shall deliver us from all evils." They took my instructions lumbering off in a herd of confused fear. I dove back inside to gather a jacket, my cross, and bible - the weapons of the clergy.
Doyle and Deputy Brown were waiting in the saddle on my return, a third horse in rein, rifles across their laps. Brown's teenage face twitched with worry under the shade of his brim hat, a normal reaction no doubt. And yet, I could feel my cheeks tight from smiling as I mounted up.
With a nod, spurs were dug, reins snapped and we took off. Into the darkness, across the deathly desert, towards the unknown, we galloped.
How long we rode, I could not be sure, my legs were numb and throbbing yet it felt as though we had only set off when we spotted the flicker of light down a shallow canyon.
Closer and acrid smoke, bitter with unknowable chemical, stung our eyes and throats, even the horses succumbed with snorted anger and frightful rearing. We had little choice but to tie them to a leafless sun bleached tree and continue on foot, our mouths covered by handkerchiefs.
Groaning metal and crackling flames meet us as we neared a beetling rock face. Gently as though stalking deer we crept to the precipice.
Even after all the decades between, that sight has never left me, a mirrored teardrop, three times bigger than any building I had ever seen, lay in a smoldering crater. Gasses hissed from unseeable ports, cylinders upon its rear coughed blue fire and shook the entire vessel. Along one side yawned a dark maw, an opening, heavy steam pouring out to blanket the rocky, blackened ground. It was so otherworldly, so non-terrain, it could only have been sent by our glorious creator.
I moved to stand when Doyle pulled me to the ground. His finger over his lip he pointed with the rifle. Something shifted, rocks sliding, crashing.
From behind this ark came a figure, taller than any man or animal I knew. Navigating the wreckage, it stroked the exterior with four hands as if comforting a dying animal.
The sheriff and deputy scrambled backwards into perceived safety. But I could not move, nor did I feel fear, for on either side of its back hung a set of magnificent, glorious, heavenly wings.
"Pastor, we have to go?" Doyle's hushed and trembling words broke through my awestruck trance. Looking beyond his knotted brow, I spotted Brown running hunched over towards the horses.
The question must have been painted across my face for I did not need to ask it. "He's goin' to head to town, to warn everyone and bring back whoever is willing. We ain't letting that thing, whatever ungodly beast it is, out of this canyon, Pastor."
Sweat prickled under my collar and I ground my teeth. "No sheriff, I must speak to it." I spun, bible pressed in an embrace against my chest and marched toward the edge. No longer did I care for silence, I wanted it to see me, yet as I descended I could not spot it.
Doyle tried calling after me in a whispered shout, easy to ignore, then he lamented and followed suit.
The vessel was even more majestic up close, a towering beauty reflecting our tiny pale faces. A quick look around and I straightened, and did the only thing logic dictated, I introduced myself.
My voice circled the canyon, becoming distant yet louder simultaneously. For seconds there was nothing, we stood breath baited, then a limb extruded from the blackened portal.
Doyle cocked his rifle as the enormous being unfolded itself before us. Up close I could see each segment of it interlocking armour, and pipes pumping different coloured bubbling fluids from one section to another. I swallowed a lump in my throat, my neck tilting further and further back, as Doyle repeated curses, most of which seemed directed at me. The fear crashed in like an icy wave, I was left shaking as the thing lumbered closer. Then it gained speed, hurtling on huge legs, the ground trembling.
A shot boomed. Gun cocked. Then a second.
The thing roared with the ferociousness of a barreling bear, but louder, and angrier. Where it had been hit the darkness hid from my wide eyes. Instinct alone made me leap from its path, for I remember not making the decision. Doyle however made no such move.
In one great twisting movement it struck the sheriff with a crunching blow. The force lifting his flailing body across the rocky terrain like a doll thrown across a room. Wetly sickening was his thud into the canyon wall, sliding with the scree, limp and lifeless behind several boulders.
The creature turned to my quivering form, colossal steps echoing in my fuzzy head. I had been a fool, I would die no different. Its arms raised to strike. I clamped my eyes shut as if to squeeze out reality and lifted the good book before me. My only shield. Death's blow never landed.
Warily I opened my eyes, and to my shock the being knelt. One finger as long as my arm delicately touching the Bible, tracing the cross on its cover. With a click its helm slid away revealing a dark oily face, a multitude of slick black eyes reflecting my stunned expression. It bent low, its moist breath ruffling my hair. Withdrawing one finger from below its rigid mechanical collar, a crucifix dangled before me, but with two cross beams.
I gasped, reaching to feel the holy emblem and the being shrank back as though our roles suddenly reversed. The magnitude and multitude of questions raced round my mind until I thought I would be sick.
A clicking and clacking of buckles and bolts resounded and its glove clattered to the ground. It reached towards me, slowly, tentatively. The tip of the reptilian flesh felt cool on my forehead, I couldn't have ran even if I had wanted to.
In an explosion of blindingly bright light, my mind's eyes ruptured in a stampede of images. His people, from the heavens, their civilisations rising and falling, one amongst them different than all the rest, persecuted, martyred, raised again….
Collapsing to the ground chest heaving, I retched burning bile into the dirt. Gripping my head I screamed, two minds in one, too many memories, too much…
I awoke on the canyon's edge, near to the horses, mouth stinging metallic, body trembling weak, soul bursting in rejuvenation. Scuttling to the edge I sighed, relieved it was not a dream, his ship still lay there. My gaze fell on the dark smear that was the Sheriff, he had been a good and fair man that deserved better. Everyone did.
The stranger from across the vast desert of stars looked up to me and nodded before entering his ship. I knew what had to be done.
On entering the town the place was in a fever, men placing barrels of blasting powder into a wagon, checking guns, loading ammo. At the wagon's head stood Deputy Brown, he was attempting to direct them but went mostly ignored. The hussle stopped as I trotted close, out of breath and sweating from the ride.
Everyone wanted to know at once what was happening, where the sheriff was. I did as any good Christian would and assured them all was OK. There was no need to stoke their fears. I told them the Sheriff was with our visitor and all would be fine. I asked them all to gather in the church were I could address everyone at once.
And so they shuffled in, whispering amongst themselves, casting doubtful glowers towards me. All those armed knew my ways and left their pistols and rifles by the door. I waited before the altar, hands clasped, smile wider than the ocean. The Strangers instructions were clear, so understandable that I did not question it. Any of it.
Pews filled as if Sunday service was ready to begin and I walked, head high out the only door. Swiftly I slammed the double doors shut and slid a rifle between the iron handles. Shouts and cries came, demands to know what I was doing. I was saving everyone, but they would not have understood that.
The fire from the smashed oil lamp spread fast, wreathing the front of the newly built white wooden church until it erupted like a tinderbox. The screams and pleas still haunt me today. I have never forgotten them, every one of their seventy two names stay in my prayers. I am not an evil man, but sometimes we must dine with the devil so others may feast in the light of our lord.
I took the wagon and abandoned the town. In a few weeks when the gold and coal stopped pouring into the company they would send someone. Everyone attacked during service; they would have no reason to believe I wasn't there. Most likely the blame would fall on the savage natives for which there would no doubt be retribution.
There was little time left with the stranger when I returned, he conveyed to me that this world was too heavy for him. He shared through his mind images as much as he could, gave me my instructions, my calling.
He too was a missionary just like me, from a world where Christ's life followed the same path, and so when they took to the stars to spread the good word they found the same events took place everywhere. Definitive proof that God was real, delivered by an interstellar angel. I wept at his last shuddering breath.
I buried his ship with him inside by bringing the canyon in around them, every drop of blasting powder used. I left my collar there to burn for Pastor Joseph Finch no longer existed.
For weeks I wandered the vast sands, until near death I was found by Julia who would go on to be my wife and give me seven children and many more grandchildren. None of them know my truth.
The stranger said that he had miscalculated, something about spacetime, that our world wasn't ready for his truth, that it would only become a myth, easy to ignore. So he instructed me to carry this tale, to pass it from generation to generation until the twenty-first century.
He spoke of an age of communication, education and enlightenment where his story could reach millions in the blink of an eye.
So dear descendant, I understand this is a strange tale to find in an old will but I hope, I pray, you find a platform to let the world know my story.
Go now in the name of our saviour and change the order of the world.
We are not alone. God is real. God is good.
Bless you child,
Joseph Finch a.k.a Arnold Logue